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5.4.6 Target-side priority 

 

As we have noted, Toury upset linguistics-based studies of translation not only by 



opposing prescriptivism, but more profoundly by insisting that translations should be 


studied in terms of their target contexts rather than in relation to their sources (see 

Toury 1995b: 136). This led to an extreme position: in Toury’s words, “translations 

should be regarded as facts of target cultures” (1995b: 139; cf. 1995a: 29). This 

proposition should be understood as part of a specific research methodology; it does not 

mean that translations somehow never have source texts (which would absurdly imply 

that all translations are actually pseudotranslations). Toury’s argument is that the factors 

needed to describe the specificity of how translations work can all be found within the 

target system. This is based on the assumption that translators “operate first and 

foremost in the interest of the culture into which they are translating” (1995a: 12), either 

in order to reinforce the norms of the target culture or to fill in perceived “gaps.” 

Those general methodological precepts have born fruits. When one studies, for 

example, a corpus of English theater translated into Spanish (Merino 1994) or censored 

translations in Franco’s Spain (Merino and Rabadán 2002), even when the material is 

organized in terms of English-Spanish pairs, the shifts make sense in terms of the norms 

of the Spanish host system, especially when it comes to the Franco regime’s systemic 

censorship and its various historical avatars (for notes on the wider project on 

translation and censorship, see Merino Álvaraz 2005; for research projects associated 

with the earlier development of the descriptive paradigm, see Lambert 1988, 1995). In 

these and similar case studies, translations are indeed approached as facts of target 

cultures, and much quantitative data has been produced in those terms. 

The principle of target-side priority has nevertheless been contested. The 

researchers working on literary translation at Göttingen in the 1990s generally 

preferred a “transfer” model, which explicitly traced movements between particular 

source and target cultures. Others have objected to the separation of the two cultures, 

arguing that translators tend to work in an “interculturalspace in the overlap of 

cultures (cf. Pym 1998a). More generally, as with the problem of defining translations, 

the binary opposition of source and target has been increasingly criticized from within 

the indeterminist paradigm, as we shall see later.  

 

 


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